SustainabilitySocial Issues

The Poverty Behind Chocolate

I love chocolate so much that sometimes I feel like I’m under its control. Unfortunately for some out there, being a slave to chocolate is too much of a reality.

The Poverty Behind Chocolate

Young boy working at a cocoa farm in the eastern Ivory Coast (Image Source: Fortune)

Over half of the world’s chocolate comes from West Africa and a large amount of that chocolate is produced using child labor. According to the Global Exchange website, an extensive study of cocoa farms in West Africa directly involving over 4,500 producers found that:

An estimated 284,000 children are working on cocoa farms in hazardous tasks such as using machetes and applying pesticides and insecticides without the necessary protective equipment. Many of these children work on family farms, the children of cocoa farmers who are so trapped in poverty they [the farmers] have to make the hard choice to keep their children out of school to work. The IITA also reported that about 12,500 children working on cocoa farms had no relatives in the area, a warning sign for trafficking.

Global Exchange

Cocoa farmers in the West African region are so impoverished that many of them sell their children to traffickers hoping the children will find work and send money home. Once separated from their families, the children face the harsh reality of working for next to nothing and often don’t see their families again. The study’s researchers, when talking about a child laborer, report:

Though he had worked countless days harvesting cocoa pods — 400 of which are needed to make a pound of chocolate — Diabate has never tasted the finished product. “I don’t know what chocolate is,” he told the press.

Global Exchange

This the bittersweet reality. These children working so hard on these cocoa plantations, away from their families, robbed of their childhood, without a chance for education and all without getting to taste the fruits of their labor.

This issue of child slavery in the cocoa industry is actually what got me into the Fair Trade movement in the first place. A high school project on social justice issues around the world led me to the harsh truths behind chocolate production and ever since then, I’ve been advocating for Fair Trade Certified chocolate and waiting for the chocolate industry to follow through on their promise to reform their supply chain. So, now I want YOU to get involved and spread the word about child slavery in the cocoa industry and the option of Fair Trade Certified chocolate. I’m even going to make it easy for you.

The Fair Trade system makes it so that cocoa farmers don’t end up taking their children out of school and putting them to work or selling them off. The benefits are enormous as our amazing farmers at the Kuapa Kokoo cooperative have demonstrated.

Written by Zarah Patriana, originally published on SUFC. Zarah is the Operations Manager for the Global Exchange Fair Trade Online Store, a project of the international human rights organization, Global Exchange.

Hero image source: Danette May